Tiana Templeman takes to the high seas on a cruise liner and finds with all the luxuries on board, it’s a push to get off at port.
It’s a sparkling afternoon as we wriggle our toes in the soft grass of a perfectly manicured lawn and sip a glass of sauvignon blanc, revelling in the feeling of the sun on our backs. Around us there are other travellers doing the same – and ocean as far as the eye can see.
The half-acre of lush lawn on the top deck of Celebrity Solstice is just one of the luxuries on board this ship. There’s also an open-air cinema, wine bar and a first on a ship, the ‘Hot Glass Class’, which offers glassblowing classes on the top deck in the hot glass studio where you can create a paperweight, or for the more adventurous, large ruffle-edged fruit bowl.
We take the advice of another passenger and watch a class first to pick up extra tips before we make our own piece. This is one souvenir we definitely won’t be finding in any shops in port!
One of the most impressive aspects of this cruise is the staff-to-passenger ratio of 1:2, which means you get a luxurious cruise experience, minus the high-end price, and personalised service like that from our steward, who greets us by name each time he spots us in the corridor outside our room.
Accommodation varies from interior, ocean-view and balcony staterooms, to AquaClass rooms, which have additional spa-themed perks, including access to Blu, the ship’s ‘spa cuisine’ restaurant, and unlimited access to the Persian Gardens, an aromatic steam room, herbal sauna, traditional Finnish sauna, therapeutic showers and a row of coveted heated lounges with stunning sea views.
Suites include access to the suite-only restaurant Luminae and Michael’s Club, a clubby bar and meeting place where convivial conversation and complimentary drinks are the order of the day.
But our favourite is the Martini Bar, where the bottle-flipping, glass-stacking bartenders entertain the crowd by pouring up to a dozen drinks at once. Seats at the ice-topped bar are highly coveted and disappear quicker than the popular Blue Wave martinis.
Other popular drinking spots include the Sky Lounge, with its wrap-around floor-to-ceiling windows and uninterrupted sea views, and the sultry Ensemble, which is located in an atrium outside the ship’s collection of specialty restaurants. These cost extra, but are worth every cent, especially the French-inspired Murano – a date-night dining experience with all the trimmings and has some of the best food on the ship. Linen-draped tables, fine glassware, low lighting and opulent décor create an intimate mood. There’s white-gloved staff, silver service and guéridon service with dishes flambéed tableside by debonair waiters.
Highlights include traditional Châteaubriand for two or cognac flambéed lobster tail with smoked bacon and Dijon cream for mains, and a rich Valrhona cocoa cake for dessert. Murano frequently books out during the first few days on shorter itineraries. Making reservations online before you depart ensures you don’t miss out on this popular restaurant.
If you do leave it too late, or prefer to stick with the complimentary dining options, there’s the main dining room with its towering two-storey wine tower, which offers multi-course meals, and the casual Mast Grill near the pool. With the sun shining overhead and a cocktail in hand, it’s the perfect place to grab a casual lunch to enjoy on a deck chair. AquaSpa Café, in the undercover Solarium pool area, is our go-to for breakfast and has healthy choices such as granola, yoghurt cups and fruit plates.
Lifou is the first stop on our itinerary. Clutching our snorkel gear we climb into the tender for the trip to shore. From the wharf where the small boat drops us off, we walk up the hill and follow the signs to Jinek Bay. It takes less than ten minutes to reach the marine reserve where locals take our AU$15 entry fee and invite us to enter the water via a set of stairs. Numbers are capped to preserve this pristine snorkelling spot, so it’s best to either arrive early, or book a ship’s shore excursion. Masks and snorkels can be hired if you don’t have your own.
Jewel-bright tropical fish dart between the coral gardens and clownfish peek out of anemones, swimming through the waving fronds as we hover silently above them. There is so much to see it is hard to know where to look first. We are amazed to discover that more than two hours have passed when we finally get out of the water and dry off, ready to return to the ship.
After another enjoyable evening of wining and dining, we head to the Martini Bar for our first Silent Disco. Tables have been cleared and the bartenders are already wearing headphones, rocking out as they mix everyone’s cocktails. We collect a set and discover they have a switch so we can swap between three different music channels: old-time favourites like the Blues Brothers, contemporary pop (think Michael Jackson) and a live mix from the ship’s DJ. Lights on the headphones change colour, depending what channel we’re listening to. We rock out with each other, and other passengers, listening to the same channel, then switch to the live DJ mix and dance like no-one is watching. Perhaps the best thing about the Silent Disco is no-one can tell if you aren’t dancing in time with the music!
On the final port day, we book one of the chic private alcoves on the top deck. There’s a moveable awning so we can make the most of the view, cushy couches and lounge chairs, a table for holding the room service, plus extras such as fresh fruit skewers, a bottle of Veuve Rosé and sparkling water.
Sorry Noumea, it’s not you, it’s me. I know I said we’d spend time together when I was back in Australia, but today I’m perfectly content to admire you from afar.
South Pacific cruises on Celebrity Solstice depart from Sydney and for this season, are available until April 2019. Australian passport holders do not require a visa to visit the South Pacific.
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